I'm ridiculously excited to have Kent Davis, author of A Riddle in Ruby and the forthcoming sequel, The Changer's Key, here at The Hiding Spot. Not only will the cover of The Changer's Key be revealed here today, Kent has shared 5 ways in which improv and action have impacted his writing.
After reading and admiring the phenomenal cover art of The Changer's Key, be sure to enter to win a hardcover copy of A Riddle in Ruby!
5 Ways Improv and Acting Have Influenced My Writing
In seventh grade my speech teacher brought my out of my shell. Even though many people tried to put me back in that shell—not everyone (thanks, mom!)—I persisted, and doubled down on poverty: I went to graduate school as an actor and an improviser. Hey, at least I wasn't studying to be a mime! Although we did have some mime classes. Putting aside the fiscal despair, here's where I'm trying to get to: In graduate school and out in the world running a theater company, I've been continually intrigued by how dramatically improv and acting have informed my writing.
The Five Ways! Excelsior! If they bring you out of your shell (writing or otherwise), please don't blame me.
#5: Burning Desire
One of the first things I had drilled to me in theater school was the concept of need. If you're playing (or writing) a character, it's vitally important to know what they want. I prefer that need to be a burning desire that trumps all other things. It's the engine that a character harnesses to drive the story to magnificent places. I felt a similar burning desire for a particular person when I was in sixth grade, and I'm here to tell you that the actions I took created an incredibly interesting story. You'll just have to take my word for it. You know, juvenile records are sealed for a reason.
The best way this concept of need works for me is if the character's burning desire is for another character to take action. "I want a pony" is only two-sided. Either I get the pony or I don't. "I want you to give me a pony," however, is the basis for a thrilling campaign of opportunities, successes, and failure surrounding my continued attempts to get you to give me that cursed beast! Sixth grade flashback. Best to wait it out…. Okay, thanks. The best thing about this kind of objective? Failures are just as full of story as victories. Oftentimes more.
#4: The Story. The Characters. Story. Characters. That is All.
I'm a short, bald guy with a tendency to fall down spectacularly. Some people call this condition "character actor." Now, laughter is a drug. In my past, to access this elusive substance, I have been known to come up with intricate bits of business that I was convinced would absolutely slay the audience. I once did a prat fall out of a door hung eight feet in the air. Good times. The disease: I get an idea. I get excited, I add more to it. Which makes me more excited. Which makes me add more business. Here, however, is one of the best things a director ever said to me about a piece of such business: "It's funny, Kent. It's really funny. But it doesn't serve the play. In fact, it takes the focus away from it. You need to decide. Do you want to serve yourself? Or the story?" If what I've written—no matter how good, or beautiful, or sad, or pleasingly odd—doesn't move the story forward, it needs to go.
#3: Movement is Character is Story.
You know the moment. The three-finger salute from The Hunger Games. Bilbo slipping on the One Ring. Tiffany Aching cleaning up Granny Aching's hut after she—ok, spoilers, that was a close one. All of these movements contained volumes of information about the characters who performed them. A simple charged action can bring so much more to the story than a monologue. On a stage, every cross from upstage to downstage, every mixed drink, every tentative step closer or hunch farther away, all of those little tiny motions can contain huge significance. So, too, for characters on a page. Every time a character moves in what I'm writing, I try to make that movement important. Otherwise why have it happen at all?
#2: Even One Word.
One of the amazing things about improv is the power of little things. A single look can lead to a scene. A single word can seed a story. Some friends and I just recently improvised an entire full-length play derived from the suggestion "back acne." This is something of which I'm not particularly proud. Well, actually I am.
I take a lot of solace in this principle, especially when I'm stuck in that place when the end of the book seems so impossibly far away. Instead of obsessing about the pile of plot problems that need to be solved, the legion of pages that need to be written, the lifetime of reactions from readers and critics and my mom, all I need to do is to write one word. And then one more. And then, maybe, one more. That's three words, now. Bam. Totally time for some ice cream.
#1: The Curtain's Gotta Rise
Another fascinating thing about live performance is that gut wrenching, pulse pounding moment when you must BEGIN. The curtain rises, or the lights come up, or you fall out of an eight-foot high doorway, and this train, she just has to get rolling. It doesn't matter how prepared you are, or how prepared you are not. There are people sitting out there in their seats, and they have paid money to see you do your thing and so you must do your thing. Right. Now.
This mindset has helped me with writing, too. The thing you're making can always be improved. Very possibly you will improve it. Almost certainly you'll have an idea tomorrow morning in the shower that would be a downright brilliant addition. Here's the crux of the biscuit, though. That possibility will always be there. It's essential (when you get to that ever elusive "good enough") to get that thing out into the world, to show it to your critique partners, or your agent, or your editor, or that nice lady that runs the headphone stand at the mall.
For me, once it is seen, it becomes even more real. It's often through someone else's eyes that I discover what truly needs to be done. And that's when the real work begins.
Ok, that's it. Show's over. Nothing to see here. Unless you want to look at THIS AWESOME COVER.
About the Book
To save her friends and family, apprentice thief Ruby Teach bargained with the man who chased her across the sea and through an alternate version of colonial Philadelphia. Now she’s training to become a soldier in the war he foresees and being experimented on by the army’s scientists. Ruby’s blood holds a secret, if only someone can unlock it. Meanwhile, Captain Teach and Ruby’s friends—a motley crew made up of a young aristocrat, a servant, an alchemist, and mysterious woodswoman—are racing against time to find and liberate Ruby. Kent Davis’s imagining of a colonial America powered by alchemy is fascinating and wholly original, and he sweeps our heroes through cities and unsettled territories with imagination, humor, and magic. This action-packed trilogy has equal appeal for both boy and girl readers—there’s never a dull moment.
More About the Author
1 Winner. US only. Ends 2/25/2016.